Last year, Indian National Award-winning actor Neena Gupta sportingly sought work on her Instagram account with a succinct message: “I live in Mumbai and working as a good actor looking for good parts to play.”
She attached a pretty picture of herself, which showed her at her well-preserved best.
Mind you, it wasn’t a desperate plea, but a grim reminder that it is slim pickings for actors of her age in Bollywood.
At 62, the veteran actress — and her fashion designer daughter Masaba Gupta who threw her weight behind her mother — reminded us that actors are expendable, especially if they don’t live in Mumbai, Bollywood’s epic centre.
But that message seems to have worked wonderfully for this Delhi-based talent, who became a household name with the hit TV series Saans.
In Badhaai Ho, a quirky comedy that opened in the UAE cinemas this week, Gupta plays a pivotal role as an embarrassed mother comically grappling with a late-life pregnancy as her hapless pensioner husband played by Gajraj Rao cowers mortified.
“It [her job-seeking post] worked wonders! But I never thought I would get such a good role and that such a big film would happen to me,” said Gupta in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
Her on-screen son is Bollywood’s man-of-the-moment Ayushmann Khurrana and it also stars Sanya Malhotra of Dangal fame. The moment she heard the story of Badhaai Ho, Gupta knew that this film had the potential to be the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs.
“‘When do I shoot?’ was my first response after the writer narrated Badhaai Ho… My part is so good. I didn’t even have to think for a second to say ‘yes’,” said Gupta.
Directed by Amit Sharma, the situational comedy trains its spotlight on an ageing couple on the cusp of being empty nesters, a lonely phase in a parent’s life once their children leave homes for college or after marriage.
“After watching the film I was just thinking that while it’s not profitable to have children when there’s so much population, the film says why shouldn’t there be romance in your old age? The film set me thinking that this is the time when you need love, attention and romance from your partner… Your children have grown up, your husband has retired … And what’s wrong in needing love and attention?,” said Gupta.
Earlier, the arrival of grand children offset that void as they got to dote on a bundle of joy, added the actress.
“But these days grandchildren don’t happen either as young couples don’t get married early or they don’t want to have kids. Or as families go nuclear, the children even go abroad. So the parents are just lonely and who better than your partner to fill that void?” she said.
What makes Badhaai Ho even more enticing is that it touches upon a subject that is rarely explored in Bollywood films. Hindi cinema tends to gravitate towards the younger couples in love and their trials and triumphs.
“The truth is that in our society we don’t have role for older women. Whether you belong to the upper, middle or lower class, a woman past a certain age is there to look after the house or children. Her emotional needs or physical needs are rarely given any importance,” said Gupta.
The trailers indicate how her character unleashes a family scandal as her family members realise that she got knocked up accidentally. Her son Nakul, played gamely by Khurrana, is the one who has taken it hard. His reaction, a mixture of censure, shock and denial, is a sight to behold.
So does he play a man-child in this one?
“I am not a man child in this one. It’s an organic reaction that any guy in his twenties will have when he realises that his mother is pregnant. I am impulsive and my character goes through a gamut of emotions… There’s lot of humour in Badhaai Ho,” said Khurrana in a separate interview.
The actor labels his new movie as a “unique film”.
“It deals with love after a certain age and how their news of pregnancy makes the world around them react… Whether they accept or reject the child is what Badhaai is all about.”
His reaction is just natural claims the actor.
“His father is on the verge of retirement and he knows that the financial responsibility may fall on him,” said Khurrana.
But among the voices of dissent, there’s a cool cat. Sanya Malhotra, who plays Nakul’s colleague and girlfriend, is that token progressive woman who plays it cool when she learns about her future in-laws’ accidental pregnancy.
“She’s so cool and non-judgemental… She keeps telling Nakul that it is their [his parents] life and they don’t need his permission to have sex… How can he have such expectations in the first place?” said Malhotra.
Her philosophy toward life is simple.
“It’s their wish to have a kid. Who are we to judge?”
Neena Gupta and Sanya Malhotra’s take on India’s growing MeToo movement:
“It’s a good thing that #MeToo movement is happening in India. While it may be difficult to prove who’s right and who’s wrong, people will think 100 times before doing it [sexual predatory behaviour] now. That fear that she may come and shame them is a good thing… It’s an abuse of power and happens not just in the film industry but also in corporate houses, hospitals and government offices too.” — Gupta.
“I am so glad it is happening. While the episodes are unfortunate and disturbing, I am so glad the women are gathering that courage to speak up. It’s hight time. Any such act should be condemned, no matter how long ago it happened.” — Sanya Malhotra.
Khurrana on …
Neena Gupta: “She is such a natural actress. She comes from a theatre background and you expect her to follow a certain method while she acts. But she owns the lines …”
Whether he would embrace a late-life pregnancy of his own parents:
“I am fine as they are well-to-do… Your reactions on that situation depends on whether you can afford a child. I will adopt a practical approach.”
Don’t Miss It!
Badhaai Ho is out in the UAE now.